Monthly Archives: May 2012

No new nose neurons?

Elizabeth Norton has an interesting write-up in Science Now. Some years ago, after a long period of suspicion, it was seemingly demonstrated that neurogenesis (the formation of new neurons) happened in the human nose. This research was based on the identification of proteins that would be associated with the early formation of baby neurons. Therefore, it was not possible to prove that full grown and functioning neurons were being grown in the nose, but it was assumed to be a reasonable possibly.

However, it really isn’t a reasonable possibility. If there was an Intelligent Designer, then sure, why would baby neurons pop up and then not turn into functioning adult neurons? But if there is no Intelligent Designer, and instead, things evolved, then it is quite possible that the lack of novel fully formed and hooked up neurons in an adult human (which seems to be the general rule of thumb, for whatever reason) is not necessarily achieved via some highly sensible planned out feature. Rather, it is most likely that an evolved feature is a kludge. If it turns out that neurogenesis occurs in the adult human nose but that those nascent neurons never enervate, well, that is what we might expect evolution, which is not intelligent but, rather, pragmatic, to come up with.

The method of testing this idea, applied by Jonas Frisén of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, is just as interesting as the finding itself. The idea is to date the neurons in the nose. One way to date organic tissue might be to use C-14 dating like archaeologists use, but that method is not precise enough. The neural tissue in a living human might be something like “50 years old plus or minus 80 years” which would not be too useful. But there is a way to use C-14 after all. Since atomic testing started, there has been a LOT more C-14 pushed into the atmosphere, and the added radiocarbon allows for a more precise atomic clock, if the clock is properly calibrated. This method was initially pioneered a few years ago in the forensic case of two sisters who were found dead, long after they had expired, in their home in Vienna. Both sisters had considerable wealth, and the one who died first would have passed on that wealth to the second, living sister. The relatives of the second-to-die sister would therefore receive a considerably larger inheritance than the relatives of the first-to-die sister. The two sisters’ bodies were found semi-mummified, and a couple of years after death, in their apartment which was surrounded by neighbors who never noticed they were no longer around.

The post-A-bomb calibrated C-14 method was used to determine that the sisters had in fact died about a year apart. This method has subsequently been used for other fine-tuned post atomic dating. (There is a write-up of this here.)

OK, now back to the nose.

In the new study, published this week in Neuron, Frisén, Spalding, and colleagues measured levels of 14C in olfactory bulb tissue taken during autopsy from the brains of 15 subjects who were born either before or after the atomic testing period. The researchers found that the neurons in the olfactory bulb were all the same age: the age of the individual they came from. “[That’s] evidence that in humans, in this area, neurogenesis doesn’t occur,” says Frisén.

There is still evidence, i.e. from mice, that neurogenesis of useful neurons does happen in some mammals. The question of novel nose neurons is not entirely settled. But, when the question comes up “Do humans generate new neurons as adults” please make sure that the assumption that they do is not based on this earlier nose research, or on any studies that merely looked for new neuron proteins.

In addition, Macklis points out that the tissue samples may have biased the results. The donors in the study died at the Karolinska Institute, he notes, and some had a history of substance abuse or psychiatric illness, both of which have been shown to decrease neurogenesis. He says that a better test would be to repeat the experiment in healthy people constantly exposed to new scents—chefs, sommeliers, perfumers, or travelers to exotic locales.

Face it: there is still some head scratching going on. We will need to keep an eye on this nose research before sealing our lips on it, and in the mean time, keep your chin up.

Photo courtesy of flickr user Lawrence Whittemore

Dr Who (Matt Smith) to carry Olympic Torch

According to the Dr. Who Fan Site on Google+

Matt Smith will be carrying the Olympic Torch this weekend when it reaches Cardiff in the latest leg of its 70 day trip around the United Kingdom.

Smith will bear the torch early on Saturday morning, at the start of its journey from Cardiff, the capital of Wales and home of Doctor Who, to Swansea a few miles along the coast. The day will see the torch visit the communities of Barry, Merthyr Tydfil, Rhondda and Bridgend.

“To carry the Torch is an honour, one I thought I’d never get, I’m very excited!”

Daleks will be following close behind, saying of the Olympic Flame, “Exterminate … exterminATE!!!!”

Photo from BBC One Dr Who Galleries

iPads in the Science Classroom: The Bad, The Ugly, and The Good

I know of a couple of cases where high schools are switching to the use of iPads or other tablets, replacing existing computer infrastructure with the handy and very cool computing device. When it comes to technology, I’ve never been particularly impressed with school administrations, and K-12 technology departments tend to be a little under-resourced as well, so it does not surprise me that this decision is being made. It is, of course, the wrong thing to do. Continue reading iPads in the Science Classroom: The Bad, The Ugly, and The Good

Status Report

At the moment, Scienceblogs is still undergoing technical difficulties. This is fully expected. The database this network is built on is many gazugabites in size. Despite its power and elegance, the WordPress platform (especailly the multi-user version) is complex and there are all sorts of tweaky things that must happen between the server’s system software, the database server, the PHP installation, the core WordPress software, and the localized version. When upgraded a while back it took a few days for the dust to settle and a few weeks for things to top breaking and screwing up.

I can’t reliably post at the moment, so I’ll be busy with other things for the immediate future. Keep an eye on The X Blog where I’ll be blogging a bit (just put something up on Romney’s education plan!)

Photo courtesy of kamshots

Romney on How To Fix Edumication

First, dismantle public school funding. That was pandering to the charter school people he was sitting with. Second, more “no child left behind” type policies. Third, increase classroom size. Because classroom size doesn’t matter. Fourth, cancel teacher improvement programs.

From the Washington Post:

During the roundtable session, Romney said there was no correlation between classroom size and student performance, citing a report by consulting firm McKinsey & Company. That sparked a debate with some educators and other leaders around the table.
“I can’t think of any teacher in the whole time I’ve been teaching, for 10 years, 13 years, who would say that more students [in the classroom] would benefit,” said Steven Morris, a music teacher at the school. “And I can’t think of a parent that would say I would like my teacher to be in a room with a lot of kids and only one teacher.”

Yes, some studies showed that but as far as I can tell, they were comparing class sizes that were too big with class sizes that were way too big. Turns out there is not much difference between totally broken and way totally broken.

Is it as good for you as it is for me?

As you can see, has a new look. There is no more left sidebar and the right sidebar looks different, the cute banners different blogs had is replaced with a new standardized banner usually with a picture of the blogger. The 24 hour page and some other bits are (depending on when you read this) not functioning yet but will be soon. And, up there in the upper right is the National Geographic Brand.

I no long have an “about” page but pages can be created and I will eventually do that. I think pages will be accessible from a drop down or menu or something on the right sidebar.

The little icon that goes with each post is currently my mug from Gravitar (I think). But, that can be adjusted. For instance, say I insert a picture and select “use as feature image.” I just did that with a picture of Julia SCUBA diving in the Dominican Republic. Maybe that picture will appear instead of my face. Maybe it will appear in the post. Maybe it will appear on the front cover of National Geographic!

This new blog platform is WordPress and I’ve used WordPress quite bit. I use it at The X Blog, and I use it a 10,000 Birds and I use it a Greg Laden’s Blog, and I’ve used it elsewhere. But as you may know, WordPress is a powerful tool with lots of capabilities, and no two installations are alike (well, there probably are identical installs, but not that I’ve seen). I’ve never used the “featured image” thing before ….

One of the great things about WordPress, and for WordPress users this may seem totally stupid but the old Scienceblogs platform did not have this, is the ability to click the word “edit” (or a symbol) on a post you are looking at and suddenly you are in edit mode. This did not happen in the old Scienceblogs platform … you had to find the post on a list of posts, then edit it. This means that is was trivially easy though somewhat time consuming for me to go through a bunch of categories last night and fix them up so they make more sense. See my excellent category list on the right side bar!

There have been some problems reported. Please poke around the site and see if anything goes wrong, and if you survive whatever goes wrong, let me know.

I will be adjusting commenting to allow only approved commenters. This means that the first time you comment, you use your name and something that looks like an email address, and I’ll find it in a waiting queue, and approve it. For those of you who have not had to do this in the recent past, I apologize, but this is the only way to keep out that idiot from Madison Wisconsin and others.

I am not using threaded comments.

Let me know what you think!

Photo courtesy of Holly Tappen

Mississippi Representative Andy Gipson: Put gays to death

This is just coming to light, apparently. Mississippi Republican Andy Gipson posed the following on his Facebook page on May 10th:

“Been a lot of press on Obama’s opinion on “homosexual marriage.” The only opinion that counts is God’s: see Romans 1:26-28 and Leviticus 20:13. Anyway you slice it, it is sin. Not to mention horrific social policy.”

According to Leviticus 20:13, “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”

Unity Mississippi asked him to apologize, but instead he said:

“To be clear, I want the world to know that I do not, cannot, and will not apologize for the inspired truth of God’s Word. It is one thing that will never “change.” Anyone who knows me knows I also believe that all people are created in God’s image, and that all people are loved by God, so much so that He gave us the truth of His Word which convicts us of the reality and guilt of our sin, and He gave us His Son Jesus who paid the full penalty for all our sins, by His grace through our faith in Him as we repent of our sin. John 3:16. It is this message that I preach every Sunday. I sincerely pray God will reach someone through this message.”

We await his resignation. Oh, wait, he’s a state rep in Mississippi. He’ll be elected governor.

I am the Masonic Harvard Antichrist

No kidding.

You’ll remember that a few days ago I encouraged people to complain to WordPress about the website hosted there run by the Greek Nazis (Golden Dawn). The idea was to poke the Nazis in the eye, using the fact that they had violated the WordPress terms of use. Some of you didn’t get that and were all “boo hoo” about the Nazis and wanted me to leave the poor babies alone. But what no one realized at the time is a darker, much darker truth: I do not oppose the Nazis because they promote violence against “races” and classes of people they abhor. No, my dearies, that is not it at all. I oppose the Nazis because I am a faithful member of the Masonic Order of the Illuminati, Harvard Branch, and I carry Antichrist credentials. Long before I was born, the soul that would later be implanted in my body made a pact with the Devil…or Flip Wilson, I can’t remember…to lay in wait until the rise of the Nazis in Greece in 2012. Then, to poke them in the eye.

I was not going to tell you about this but, alas, my true identity has been exposed by a shrewdly managed web site run by Nationalist Orthodox Antisemitic Christians in Greece. The site is written in Greek, but my friend Google was able to translate it. Sort of. And, I’ve gone over the gist of the site with my man in Greece. Sort of. And I can give you the lowdown, in pictures and words: Continue reading I am the Masonic Harvard Antichrist

The Branding is Upon Us, Verily

A while back, the National Geographic Society entered into an agreement with Seed Media Group, the latter being the owner and operator of This agreement had to do with advertising (simple version: NGS will broker the ad space on Scienceblogs) and branding (simple version: will look all golden-yellowy and otherwise be updated to have National Geographic stuff on it). There really aren’t any major interactions to speak of other than this, yet, though you may have noticed if you read NGS’s blog that Scienceblog posts are often linked to over there.

But there will be other arrangements made with respect to developing content and stuff. That will happen when it happens and I’m sure it will all be very good. We will also see the actual implementation of our Code of Conduct, which will change very little on this blog as I’ve been implementing that for months now, without anyone (who matters) really noticing.

Anyway, at about 7:00 PM May 21, 2012, Monday, which is in a few hours from now as I write this, the process will start. You won’t see anything happening until late in the day on Tuesday, or perhaps Wednesday (things always take longer than expected). At that time, we will be branded. You’ll see.

Here’s the important thing to know: From 7:00 PM Eastern Time Monday night until the branding is completed, anything I post or anything you say in comments will not survive. Posts and comments made prior to that will be transferred during this period of time.

The main page has info on it, but I don’t think there is anything on there that I’ve not said here.

I am very excited about using the WordPress platform for blogging here. It will be like having a hot poker removed from my left eye. Not that I’ve ever had a hot poker removed from my left eye, but you get the point.

Oh, one other thing. All Sblings are now required to have the National Geographic Theme Song as their cell phone “ring tone.”

Photo courtesy of mharrsch

Creationism News: RIP bad bills, New Jersey Evolves

Missouri, the “Show Me State,” had two bills in the state house that wuld have promoted Intelligent Design in the public school science class. The legislature adjourned a couple of days ago without advancing the bills, and that is how a bill dies. RIP bad bills in Missouri.

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, Evolution is Real! The Asbury Park (as in The Boss) carried out a poll along with Monmouth University which asked if citizens “believe in” evolution. 51% said yes, 42% said no, and 7% said they didn’t know. I would apply a 1% correction to that to account for Snarky Skeptics who would say “Believe in? Belief? What’s that? I accept evolution. I don’t believe in anything” and could therefore not be counted as a “yes” even though that is clearly what was meant.

The poll showed that Democrats and independents, males, college grads, and folk between 35 and 54 were more likely to say yes. Those with a high school education or less and people over 55 were more likely to say no. This was reported here by the NCSE.

Alabama had a bill that would have created a “credit for creationism” course as part of a release time for religions instructions scheme. That is an interesting idea, and I suspect we will see more plans like this one. According to the NCSE,

While released time programs are generally constitutionally permissible, a controversial feature of HB 133 was its allowing local boards of education to award course credit for participating in religious education. A case currently before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, Robert Moss et al. v. Spartanburg County School District No. 7, concerns a local school district’s implementation of the South Carolina Released Time Credit Act, enacted in 2006, which similarly awards course credit for participating in released time religious education. Besides the question of the bill’s constitutionality, the state board of education opposed the bill when it was introduced as HB 568 in 2011, according to WAFF.

The bill died when the Alabama legislature ended its regular session. RIP bad bill.

Photo courtesy of elmada